The Rector of Wyck

by May Sinclair. New York: the Macmillan Company. 1925. 12mo. vi+258 pp. $2.50.
JOHN CRAWFORD is a model clergyman, devout, humble-minded, constant, and kind. His wife Matty shares all his virtues and is as free as he from faults. Their goodness is so complete and unvarying that an unregenerate reader is likely to find it at times more wearisome than inspiring. They cheerfully submerge their ambitions and longings in the performance of their duties in the small parish; during the thirty years of their service they transform the spirit and character of the community. Miss Sinclair does not, however, concern herself overmuch with their parochial activities, the beneficent result of which the reader is willing to take for granted. It is the history of their affectionate devotion to each other that holds his interest — a devotion that grows more deep and tender when sorrow enters their lives.
One is justified in feeling that Miss Sinclair has dealt unkindly with this gentle couple, notwithstanding the sympathy with which she has portrayed them. Nature does not belie and reverse itself; two persons so loving, sound, and good as were John and Matty do not produce children who are utterly selfish and callous. The particular kind of suffering that the rector and his wife were called on to bear would not in actual life have fallen to their lot. Leaving heredity out of it, even on the doctrine of chances at least one of their two children would have been a normal human being.
The story opens in the year 1882; it closes in the year 1916. To cover such a period of time in a novel of about 260 pages means sketchy treatment; scenes that might have been effectively developed in chapters are dealt with in a cursory paragraph or page. ‘Seven years passed’; ‘five years passed’; ‘six months passed’ —there is not much finesse in Miss Sinclair’s method of indicating the lapse of time. Her story is episodic and fragmentary rather than full-bodied. She is at her best in recording the crisp and rapid dialogue of characters who are under stress of emotion; she catches the accent of their speech and conveys their moods and thoughts with pungency and definiteness. Sometimes, it is true, she becomes meretriciously literary in reporting their conversation—as when we find them emitting long and apposite quotations from Blake and Shelley. Notwithstanding occasional artificiality, the chief, merit of the novel is the terseness, swiftness, and effectiveness of the dialogue.
It is to be noted with regret that in cultivating terseness of speech Miss Sinclair adopts the locution ‘the flu.’ A disease that so frequently causes death has a certain dignity and should be named not flippantly but with respect.